We can divide the history of slots into three stages: mechanical, electromechanical and computerized machines.
Prototypes of slot machines had appeared in the 1870's, but just the German immigrant, Charles August Fey is considered to be father of slots. He was born on February 2, 1862 in a village Vohringen, Bavaria. He was the youngest of 16 children. The family was poor and he started working when he was 14 in a farm tool factory in Munich, then he worked in an intercom equipment manufacturer in France. After he had saved enough money he immigrated to the USA.
He observed many nickel slot machines and invented a device that accepted a nickel and rotated a color-wheel disk. In 1894 he made his own three wheel machine. Then he together with his co-worker, Theodore Holtz opened their own company and began to build more slot machines and put them on location on a 50% rental basis.
In 1895 Charles Fey moved to Berkeley where he built a second model of slot, the 4-11-44. This game was based on a popular lottery of that time, Policy. 4-11-44 was the highest winning combination and paid $5.00. That machine was set on a long, narrow cabinet.
In 1896, Fey founded a slot manufacturing factory in Market Street in San Francisco. There he produced Triple Spindle, The Duke, Klondike and 6-Way Paying Teller slots machine. A bit later he invented the legendary, Liberty Bell machine. That machine had three operating reels with ten symbols each. The symbols were Horseshoe, Hearts, Diamonds and Liberty Bell. To hit the jackpot, three similar symbols had to stop on the payline. The chances of hitting the jackpot were one in a thousand.
Soon government made the slot machines illegal. Fey was fined and on occasion arrested. However, people found a way to circumvent the anti-gambling laws. They called the slots vending machines and instead of money they started dispensing gum, candy and coupons to be redeemed for cigars. The well-known expression "Close, but no cigar" comes from that time.
Everyone knows the term "One Armed Bandit," but that that time all the machines had pulleys and gears. They could be easily beaten by smart thieves that knew how to manipulate the machine handles. The early slots did earn the nickname of one armed bandit because the pay back was between 25% and 50% of the money played. If in any of today’s casinos there were a slot that returned 50%, nobody would play it.
Fey constantly improved his machines; in 1901 he invented the first draw poker machine. This machine had an innovative feature “Draw”. The player placed the bet and pulled the lever. After the reels had stopped, the player could hold some cards to improve his hand. Then he pulled the lever anew to get the final hand. Nowadays some slot and video poker machines have similar features “Hold” and “Nudge”.
In 1906 the great San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed Fey's factory. Fey only managed to rescue one of the Liberty Bell machines. Today this machine is in the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant in Reno, Nevada, that maintained by Fey's descendents.
In 1907 Fey united with the Mills Novelty Company and they started producing the Mills Liberty Bell. In 1910, Mills introduced the fruit symbols associated with slots today. Those machines were made from cast iron and weighed about 100 pounds and were expensive to produce. In 1915 Mills began to produce machines from wood to make them cheaper. Charles Fey was in the business until his death in 1944. There is a memorial plaque in his honour on the Market Street factory and another in his home town of Vohringen, Germany.
The Mills Novelty Company continued the history of slots. In the 1930's, Mills made the quieter machine "Silent Bell." Then they introduced double jackpots allowing players to win twice in rapid succession. After that a series of distinctive machines appeared: the Lion Head, the War Eagle and the Roman Head in 1931 and the Castle Front in 1933. In the Castle Front machine the gooseneck coin taker was replaced with a new coin taker. Players could see the coins played moving across the top of the slot machine. This made game play more spectacular and allowed operators to check if slugs were being placed into the machine.
Bugsy Siegel played a big role in the history of slots. This mobster was not anybody you'd like to meet in a dark alley but he was the man who put slots machines in his Flamingo Hilton hotel in Las Vegas in the 1940s.
All the slot machines in the middle of the 20th century were electromechanical. The most famous one was "Big Bertha", designed to take in half dollars and dollars. That machine paid back about 80%. Later "Super Big Bertha" appeared. It was produced for more than $150,000. Super Big Bertha had 8 reels with 20 symbols each, thereby the odds for winning the jackpot were 1 in 25.6 billion.
In 1973, a player won $65,093 on a one-dollar progressive slot at Harold's Club in Reno. That record then was beat. For example, a player in a casino in Ontario brought home over $1,000,000 from a progressive machine in 2001. And a lucky player hit €11,736,375 while playing slots at an online casino.
In 1964 Money Honey machine entered the gambling world. That machine had electrical components; it had amusing sound and lights, multiple coin game play and higher jackpots. And soon that machine enjoyed wide popularity.
In 1980's the era of computerized slot machines started. Sircoma Company released a video poker slot machine. The players received more options to perform.
Today the slots are different. The old machines had got actual reels that spun to determine the result, and the computerized slots can have any number of symbols on any reel. The symbols displayed on the reels determined by a RNG (random number generator). The RNG constantly chooses number series that match the different symbols on the various reels. Players can see the reels spinning but this is mostly done for entertainment and has nothing to do with which symbols appear.
With the invention of Internet and the appearance of online casinos the popularity of slots has increased enormously. Now anyone can play slot machines without leaving his own house. Besides RNG, today’s slots have 3 or 5 reels and range up to 100 paylines. They have plenty of various bonus features, thrilling options and progressive jackpots. Slot machines differ in types, themes. The gaming software providers keep doing their best to improve slots and make them more exciting and entertaining.